Mick Jenkins has crafted a compelling and thought-provoking body of work.
Roughly one week prior to the arrival of Pieces Of A Man, I spoke with Mick Jenkins about the importance of replay value. The cornerstone behind longevity. How immediacy can often prove fleeting in the grand scheme of things. Naturally, such a broad philosophical concept yielded no conclusive answer. What grants a project replay value? When the term is used within the realm of gaming, it generally speaks to a combination of overall length and post-game content. Yet music is different. Length can prove detrimental, riddling the voyage with unnecessary pit stops. The most special musical journeys are seldom overlong, and must prove continuously stimulating. Production can indeed play a role, but for those seeking true longevity, the importance lies deeper: within the written word.
Lyricism is likely the dominant foundational element in hip-hop music. Mick Jenkins understands this well. His sensibilities equal that of a poet, employing linguistic acrobatics over freeform, jazz-inspired production. There are bar rappers, occasionally dubbed “rappity-rap” by the more condescending types, but Jenkins transcends the archetype. Of course, the man has bars. How else can he snarl “nobody can come for me except Kendrick” with any semblance of authenticity? Yet Mick’s lyrical temperament derives power from wisdom, rather than brute force. His intellect is notably sharper than most, likewise for his vocabulary. Therein lies his greatest weapon. Like literati still studied in academic circles today, Mick’s words are designed to be unpacked over time.
“Motherfuckers like to take advantage, standing there naked you panic, when vantage points don't get expanded, ” raps Mick, on opening salvo “Stress Fracture.” “They offer you anecdotes based on the man that you were, more than the man that you plan to be.” Of course, such gems are delivered with prowess, as Mick has masterfully picked production suited to his commanding flow. Yet the words themselves are notably denser than the average stanza, and thus, require an added sense of commitment. To truly invest in Mick’s message is to willingly put on one’s “thinking cap.” That’s not to say one must be an intellectual to enjoy Jenkins’ music; the scope of his artistry is wide enough to appeal to a variety of hip-hop heads. Yet that touch of additional effort goes a long way in imbuing Pieces Of A Man with deeper themes and narratives, whether the author intended them or not.
In some ways, Mick feels like an old soul. Unconcerned with chasing modern trends, he remains confident in his own vision, curating his projects with instrumentals of his choosing. Black Milk, Kaytranada, Nissim, High Klassified, THEMPeople and more combine to build a lush sonic backdrop, deriving influences from jazz, minimalism, and soul. Mick takes to their respective contributions ably, sprinkling a variety of thematic dots, or pieces, for us to connect. Topics of race, gender, and consent are tackled with a wisdom gleaned from personal experience. This isn’t a coming of age story per se, but rather one of reflection told after the fact.
Spare your preconceived notions of pretension. The kiddie table may be long gone, but Mick’s clever mind contains no shortage of geek-friendly similes and metaphors for those in tune to pop culture, nostalgic and current. Lead single “Understand” alone features references to The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, and Duke Nukem. Somehow, he manages to juxtapose them alongside moments of poignant reflection, making for a well-rounded combination: “Perspective and points, went from selecting electives to collecting the coins, to rejecting investments to connecting with legends and stressing acceptance,” he spits. “To fuck it, I'll write with my left, I'm finessing this joint/ with my right to bring the light, like a key on a kite.”
As a greater body of work, Pieces Of A Man achieves success on a variety of merits. For one, the album is concise; though nearing an hour, the density never feels cumbersome, unfolding in an organic fashion. Lyricism remains a strong suit, and Mick’s daring willingness to forego the safety net of “out-barring” his competition adds a refreshing versatility. In truth, there is a tradeoff to be made. It’s understandable why Mick didn’t pad the album with “Bruce Banner” style cuts, but the decision does cost Pieces a handful of accessibility points. Like the jazz that fuels his spirit, Mick’s music evokes fierce loyalty from purists. Curious passersby types may stop and take a gander, only to be pulled away from the latest dance challenge.
Should you find yourself interested in digging a little deeper, rest assured that Pieces Of A Man will provide plenty of content to digest. A surface-level listen, while enjoyable, merely scratches the surface of what Jenkins has provided. It’s a testament to Mick’s authorial prowess, further proof that the pieces are once again moving toward a lyrically-driven renaissance. In the vanguard stands Mick Jenkins (EarthGang, J.I.D, & Denzel Curry are there too), confident in his ability to lead, even when the naysayers emerge to mumble their doubts.